Friday, 30 December 2011


PATRICK WHALER, an aging American mercenary, began his fictional life as Jacques Salois: a 30-something Belgian legionnaire. How did one morph into the other?

As a writer one of the things that fascinates me is archetypes. Amongst the most popular is the old wise man or mentor, a character that instructs the hero in the ways of the world. As I was developing The Afrika Reich it occurred to me that my narrative lacked this figure. I had two central good guys in the shape of Burton and Salois but they were matched as equals, both the same age and with similar skills. I realised I would have a stronger relationship to explore if Burton had a mentor-figure with him… but I didn’t want to make it quite that straight forward!

So Patrick can’t be entirely relied upon. He’s prepared to abandon Burton to save himself, even threatens to shoot him at one point; as a mentor he’s ambiguous. Actually Patrick is one of a number of father-figures Burton encounters in the book from his real father to Hochburg, none of whom offer much safety or stability: a subtle undermining of the concept of Fatherland so cherished by the Nazis.

Up to this point I was still using the character of Salois albeit an older version than initially conceived. It was my agent who suggested I make him American in the hope that it might give the book more appeal State-side. There was no particular reason why Salois had to be Belgian (indeed in an early draft of the original version of the book he was Asian!) so I made the change. I don’t think it had an effect on my US deal but as an unforeseen boon it gave me an easy route into explaining America’s role in my alternative history.

For some reason I’ve had more suggestions from readers as to how they depict Patrick than any other character, everything from George Peppard to an aging Harrison Ford. Personally I always half-saw him looking like Richard Burton in The Wild Geese. There was the aging-warrior-in-Africa connection, but most of all I liked the link with Burton’s character in Where Eagles Dare... it was like catching up with him twenty years later to see what had become of the man.

Two other pieces of trivia. 1) Originally his surname was Whalen – but a lot of the time when I typed it ‘Whaler’ came out, till eventually it stuck. 2) Patrick is trying to get back to his daughter who’s living in Baltimore and hates it. Why Baltimore of all cities in the US? Because while I was writing those scenes I was watching The Wire.

As for Jacques Salois... well the name didn’t go entirely to waste. He’s one of the main characters in Book 2, back in his Belgian form.

P is also for PREQUEL

While Afrika Reich was being rejected by publishers I began looking for a new project. If the book wasn’t going to make it into print it seemed a shame to squander the characters so I began to think how I might use them elsewhere. I was drawn to the idea of Patrick’s lapsed idealism and wondered what it would be like to see him as a young man full of conviction. Since I’d made reference to the Spanish Civil War that seemed the most obvious line to take… and so I developed an unrelated PREQUEL.

Called Seven Bridges to Toledo, it’s about a bullion heist during Spain’s war. Highly influenced by the Spaghetti Western (more of which another time) it tells the story of Arch Stanton, a British engineer and the hero, Patrick and Tunscher (another of the main characters in Book 2) as they try to wrestle the gold across Spain. The plot was full of twists and double-crosses and also featured ‘cameos’ from Hochburg and Cranley.

I never actually wrote the book but do have it planned out. Whether it ever sees the light of day will depend on the continuing success of Afrika Reich and if I want to go back and revisit the story. Time will tell...

Sunday, 11 December 2011


Another break from the blog – this time due to a back injury (I’ve torn a muscle) which means sitting to write is painful. Actually, it’s not only a physical issue; I’m currently working on Book 2 and it’s difficult to write about one-time legionnaires involved in all sorts of rough and tumble when just sitting down hurts! Anyway, enough of my ailments and on with the A-Z.

If my alternate history begins with the divergence point of Dunkirk, it consolidates with the CASABLANCA CONFERENCE of 1943 where Hitler and Prime Minster Halifax meet to carve up Africa. The obvious inspiration for this was the 1884 Berlin Conference where the 19th Century powers met to divide the continent (the so-called ‘The Scramble for Africa’) . There was also a real Casablanca Conference, also in 1943, also at the Anfa hotel (pictured below) where Churchill and Roosevelt met to discuss opening up a second front in Europe. This is one of things I enjoyed doing most with the book – taking real historical moments/facts and bending them to my story.

By the way – watch out for a literal reference to ‘Casablanca’ in Book 2 which will help explain the symbolism of Hochburg’s and Eleanor’s relationship... in case you’ve overlooked it.

The Casablanca Conference leads to a decade of uneasy peace before my story picks up in 1952. But why did I choose that year? There were two main reasons, one of which I’ll come back to in ‘F is for...’. The second is that I wanted a date that was significant, iconic (if I dare use that most over-employed of words). 1952 was the beginning of an epoch that lasts to this day; it was the year Elizabeth II came to the throne. Indeed the majority of people in the UK have known no other monarch. Just as a period of real history began in 1952, so does my alternative one. Like I said: I enjoy bending reality!